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Untouchability is the practice of discriminating various individuals and groups based on their cast and the jobs done by them. Untouchability is practiced for a very long time. The untouchables usually bear inhuman treatment because they belong to the lower caste. They have been going through various kinds of discrimination in almost all places. Untouchability , in its literal sense, is the practice of ostracising a minority group by segregating them from the mainstream by social custom or legal mandate.The origin of untouchability and its historicity are still debated. B.R.Ambedkar believed that untouchability has existed at least as far back as 400 AD. In india untouchability is practised on the basis of caste system hierarchy.


Before Independence the people of India has faced much discrimination on basis of their caste and on basis of their job. There existed a caste system in India dividing the whole system in to four categories. The castes have been derived from Vedic texts divided people into four major groups: Brahmans – Priests and elite people, Kshatriyas – Warriors, Vaishyas – Small Businessmen and Merchants, Shudras –Sanitary workers. Shudras are also known as Dalits. Thus, these differences in the people of ancient India were mostly based on caste and profession of the people. The society of Dalit faced the most discrimination. It was considered as the Brahmans were born from the head of the God and the Dalits were born from the legs of the God. They were treated as untouchables. The term Dalit for the untouchables is derived from the Sanskrit which means broken or downtrodden. Some people believe that the system of untouchability only prevails in India but it is also prevalent in other countries such as Japan, Tibet, and Korea.

Dalits were considered impure from birth, Untouchables perform jobs that are traditionally considered "unclean" or exceedingly menial, and for very little pay. One million Dalits work as manual scavengers, cleaning latrines and sewers by hand and clearing away dead animals. Millions more are agricultural workers trapped in an inescapable cycle of extreme poverty, illiteracy, and oppression. Dalits were prevented from getting educations and even were not allowed to walk on roads where the higher caste people walked. Touching low caste people were considered as impure. Any peson of high caste touching a low caste should under certain rituals to gain purity. Also low caste people where given heavy punishments for touching the higher caste with or without intention.

Dalit women are particularly hard hit. They are frequently raped or beaten as a means of reprisal against male relatives who are thought to have committed some act worthy of upper-caste vengeance. They are also subject to arrest if they have male relatives hiding from the authorities.Women from Kerala of low caste were not even allowed to cover their upper body with clothes. They even were forced to pay breast taxes .The story of the sacifice of Nangeli is very famous. She belonged to low and was forced to pay breast tax. She severed her own breast and bleed to death to not to pay tax. Her act is known as a sacrifice and still stays in the heart of many women.


Years passed but still the untouchability existed. Even the great leaders Dr. B.R Ambedkar and Mahatma Gandhi faced many problems with respect to untouchanility. Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948) and Bhimjirao Ambedkar (1891-1956) are among the major makers of modern India. Dr. Ambedkar was made to sit in the floor in his school. He is the same person who framed the Constitution of India. Mahatma Gandhi was once thrown out of the train in Africa when he was practisin as an advocate there. He was forced to get out from the train by the TC as he was considered as black. This was the first time when Gandhi faced such a situation.this made him realise the situation his own country facing which made him return from Africa and come back to India. He is the one frredom fighter who will b e always remembered by every citizens of India. No matter how the time goes

The above instances that took place in their life made them fight against the hierarchy system of caste prevailed in India and to abolish he untouchability from India. Gandhi believed that standing at the heart of the inherited Hindu tradition, including its caste system, it was possible to overcome untouchability. Gandhi said that "In my opinion, untouchability is a blot on humanity and therefore upon Hinduism. It cannot stand the test of reason. It is in conflict with the fundamental precepts of Hinduism,” He set out to reform but not to reject Hinduism. According to the Mahatma Gandhi, "the caste system is a hindrance, not a sin. But untouchability is a sin, a great crime, and if Hinduism does not destroy this serpent while there is time, it will be devoured by it." He firmly believed that ultimately the removal of untouchability depended on the change of heart of millions of caste Hindus.

At the time of Indian independence, Dalit activists began calling for separate electorates for untouchables in India to allow fair representation. Officially labeled the Minorities Act, it would guarantee representation for Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, and Untouchables in the newly formed Indian government. The Act was supported by British representatives such as MacDonald.

B. R. Ambedkar, who was also a supporter of the Act, was considered to be the “untouchable leader” who made great efforts to eliminate caste system privileges that included participation in public festivals, access to temples, and wedding rituals. In 1932, Ambedkar proposed that the untouchables create a separate electorate that ultimately led Gandhi to fast until it was rejected.

A separation within Hindu society was opposed by national leaders at the time such as Gandhi, although he took no exception to the demands of the other minorities. He began a hunger strike to protest this type of affirmative action, citing that it would create an unhealthy divide within the religion.


After several movements and struggles to abolish the practice of untouchability, laws were made in the constitution to accommodate the interests of the oppressed classes. Article 17 of the Indian Constitution abolished untouchability and declared it as a punishable act. Untouchability is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. The enforcement of any disability arising out of Untouchability shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law. Untouchability is neither defined in the Constitution nor in Act. According to Article 17, no one can restrict the Dalits or Harijans from entering temples, streets, buses, etc. They are free to use all public services with respect and dignity. Also, no one can refuse from selling anything to the Dalit people.

The government also gives reservation to these castes. Reservation means that a certain percentage of places in government colleges and jobs are reserved for the people from lower classes. It, therefore, ensures that their oppression in the past does not affect the progress of their present and their future. The reservation also aims at providing them a fair chance of education which is benefit for their growth.

Constitution shows the importance attached by the Constituent Assembly towards eradication of this evil practice of untouchability. Article 17 is also a significant provision from the point of view of equality before law (stated in Article 14). It guarantees social justice and dignity of man, the twin privileges which were denied to a vast section of the Indian society for centuries together.

This right is directed against private persons. The nature of untouchability is such that it is not possible to conceive where the State may practice untouchability.The Supreme Court held that whenever a fundamental right contained in Arts. 17, 23 or 24 was being violated by a private individual, it would be the constitutional obligation of the State to take necessary steps to interdict such violation and ensure that such person should respect the right. Merely because the aggrieved person could himself protect or enforce his invaded fundamental rights, did not absolve the State from its constitutional obligations.

Article 35 read with Article 17 confer on the Parliament power to make laws prescribing punishment for practicing untouchability. The Parliament enacted the Untouchability (Offences) Act, 1955. In 1976, it was made more stringent and was renamed ‘The Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955. It defines ‘Civil Right’ as ‘any right accruing to a person by reason of the abolition of untouchability by Article 17 of the Constitution.’ All offences under the Act have been made non-compoundable. The Act prescribes punishment (1-2 years imprisonment) for preventing any person from entering any place of public worship or from worshipping or denying access to any shop, public restaurants, hotels or places of public entertainment or refusing to admit persons to hospitals and refusing to sell goods or render services to any person. Also, insulting a member of Scheduled Caste on the ground of untouchability or preaching untouchability or justifying it on historical, philosophical, religious or other grounds is a crime.

To prevent the commission of offences or atrocities against the members of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, the Parliament also enacted the ‘Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.’ The Act provides for special courts for the trial of offences under the Act and for the relief and rehabilitation of the victims of such offences. Atrocities committed against a Hindu SC or ST, who had converted to another religion, can be prosecuted under the Act, if the victim is still suffering from social disabilityficial for them along with their families and generations to come.

Theses articles in Indian Constitution and the various act protected people from discrimination against them. The people of the SC ST community is highly benefited from the reservations. In the present scenario the act of untouchability is rarely scene and detected. But many people from North india still faces the problems of untouchability, that is the reason of reservation still being in existence. As a coin having two sides, the reservation also has some problems. Many children of educated parents who are working in high posts is benefited from such reservations, which is actually wrong.


Today the view of untouchability is different from ancient India. People are becoming more aware and are adapting to rational thinking. In spite of the constitutional amendments; untouchability, and caste discrimination still prevail in society. The politicians use this to increase their vote and gain power in the government.

The Dalits living in the cities are less vulnerable to this practice of discrimination as compared to those living in rural areas. People living in rural areas prefer to stick to their traditional beliefs, practices and refuse to accept the changes made for the betterment of society. Even inter caste marriages are considered as sin. And now a days the society has witnessed many murders of grooms of inter caste marriage done by the the relatives of the bride’s family. It is very heart breaking situation to realise that the people in 21st centuary still practises this untouhability.


All people are equal in the eyes of law. No one should discriminate and dominate others on the basis of their caste. The society should teach the children about the importance of sensibility, generosity, and equality with all people. The Dalits face discrimination majorly because of their jobs such as cleaning public areas etc. Basically, the people should respect them the most as they keep our society clean and healthy. Therefore, the young generation should take charge and fight for its complete abolition as they are the future of the county.


People’s Union for Democratic Rights v UOI

Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989

Textbook Religions in the Modern World,

-Sarah Mariam Thomas

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